Dental decay is the most common oral health problem that affects teeth, but it can be prevented.
Dental decay is the most common "disease" that affects teeth, but it can be prevented. Decay follows the formation of plaque, a sticky film found on teeth. Chewing causes food to get trapped between teeth and inside the grooves. Bacteria found in the plaque converts sugar and starch (found in carbohydrates) into acids, which erode and cause holes to form in the teeth.1 Every time sugar is eaten and broken down, teeth are attacked by acid for up to an hour. Acidic foods can also damage teeth as they etch away the enamel on the teeth.
Plaque can lead to gum disease when it builds up on the gum line of teeth. Gums can become inflamed (gingivitis) and the gum line recedes. Plaque can destroy the fibres and bone that hold teeth in place. Saliva neutralises acid and helps to remineralise teeth.1
The introduction of fluoride in water and toothpaste reduced the amount of tooth decay in most of Australia.
A build up of plaque on teeth and around the gum line can lead to gum disease. This has been linked to heart disease because the bacteria that infect your gums can get into the blood and can sometimes infect the valves in your heart. These bacterial infections may also have a general affect on heart health.
Gum disease also results in a reduced ability to chew wholesome foods. This can lead to poorer nutrition which in turn can affect the gums. Find out more about gum disease
Any food containing sugar will increase the risk of tooth decay. Many processed foods have sugar in them, and the higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Read food labels to determine whether the product contains sugar. Sugar can be listed on labels as carbohydrates, and carbohydrates can cause similar plaque build-up.
Acidic foods can also cause the teeth to erode. Some examples of acidic foods include beer, grapefruit, orange juice, pickled foods, cola drinks, red wine and vinegar.3
Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out the acid in your mouth after eating or drinking. It has been proven that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can prevent tooth decay. However, it is important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and therefore may damage your teeth.
It’s been proven that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can prevent tooth decay. However, it’s important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and therefore may damage your teeth.
For more information about dry mouth and chewing gum.
Visit a dentist if you have:
Australian Dental Association
American Academy of Periodontology. How to keep a healthy smile for life. [online] Chicago, IL: American Academy of Periodontology. [accessed 27 May 2011] Available from: http://www.perio.org/consumer/smileforlife.htm
American Academy of Periodontology. Mouth-body connection. [online] Chicago, IL: American Academy of Periodontology. [accessed 27 May 2011] Available from: http://www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.top2.htm
Australian Dental Association (ADA). Healthy eating equals healthy teeth. [online] St Leonards, NSW: ADA. [accessed 7 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.ada.org.au/app_cmslib/media/lib/0711/m102959_v1_healthyeating_factsheet.pdf (PDF 469kB)
Australian Dental Association (ADA). Caring for Teeth for Life. [online] St Leonards, NSW: ADA. [accessed 7 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.ada.org.au/app_cmslib/media/lib/0711/m102734_v1_media_release_babies_%20toddlers.pdf (PDF 58kB)
Do LG Slade GD Roberts-Thomson KF et al. Smoking-attributable periodontal disease in the Australian adult population. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2008; 35(5):398–404.
Gordon D. The Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study (INVEST). Circulation2005; 111: 576-582.
Pharmacy Self Care. Oral health. Deakin, ACT: Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. 2009.
Slade GD Spencer AJ Roberts-Thomson KF, eds. Australia’s dental generations: the National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004–06. AIHW cat. no. DEN 165. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Dental Statistics and Research Series No. 34). 2007.Top of page
Last published: 30 July 2011
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